Role of Instructional Practice in Student Stress
Introduction to Unit 2
Unit 2 Objectives
- Students will identify the area’s of student stress that can be reduced or alleviated through teacher intervention, in terms of instructional planning by analyzing student case studies and writing the most likely cause/effect relationship.
- Students will discriminate between their own instruction practices and those described as stress reducing by creating specific examples of improvements in these lessons to reduce student stress.
Humans have considerable resources to deal with stress yet there are certain psycholo-social modifiers of stress that either increase or decrease the negative effects it can have on the body and the mind. These ideas are what we will try and focus on in examining our role in both the creation and relief of stressors in the students environment.
Key Instructional Practices That Increase Student Stress
Often teachers confuse the affects of quantity versus quality, in the work they assign to students. Teachers tend to plan for covering the content of a course and achieving objectives or learning outcomes, but often fail to account for the innumerable distractions, interuptions, and teachable moments that put these best laid plans to waste. In order to make up for time lost time, the instructor "speeds up" the amount of material covered. Unfortunately, the student is often unable to "slow down" other areas of life in order to account for the extra time, which the instructor takes for granted, exists.
Or, a difficult subject is given too little time to achieve ambitious learning outcomes; the student is warned in the course syllabus and the instructor then assumes less responsibility in making assignments conform to a limited timeframe. AP course teachers notoriously take over students summers and weekends, making sure content is covered. Strange how the college courses the AP courses are designed to replace, generally are completed in one semester, with a total of 9-12 hours of total study. Either, the AP program grossly over reaches objectives, or high school AP instructors grossly overprepare (I tend to favor the former rationale).
Another common complaint; students assignments require too much time to do well. In order to achieve quality, develop critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and review and revise work, time must devoted to actually think, ananlyse, and evaluate; this time is often completely removed from an instructors frame of reference, when considering student assignments. This problem particulary affects high functioning and/or perfectionist students, who often spend a good deal of time organizing thoughts and calculating the best possible answers.
The Ambiguous and the unknown...
Ahh... some of the all time high student complaints of teachers; "I don't know what she wants...; He keeps telling us it's our responsibility to figure out what it means...; I asked her what to do and she said, "just do your best, I want to see your interpretation"...; I asked how long it should be and he just said "long enough to answer the question completely...; she said, we covered this in class, but I don't remember it and it's not in my notes...; she expects us to remember everything that comes out of her mouth!...; I got a bad grade because I misunderstood the question,... ".
Each of us, who have spent anytime in a classroom as a teacher or student, can probably identify with at least some of the above. Yet, these student complaints often build frustration and anger while wreeking havoc on student stress levels. These complaints, add to an overall lack of control and, reminds students, in a negative way, of their inferior position; they are in no place to demand clearer instructions and expectations. They must comply with the whims of the teacher in order to achieve success.
Insufficient Modeling and Teaching of Time Management
Lack of time is a key component to student stress. The education world can be one of the most demanding, in terms of what must be accomplished, in a short amount of time. Students juggling classes, sports, clubs, home, and an active social life, never seem to have enough time (neither do their teacher/coaches/moderators). The ability to manage one’s time efficiently and effectively, in order to achieves ones goals, as well as maintain an adequate social support network, can be a challenge to master. Like any other subject, students must receive instruction, modeling, exemplars, and practice to apply the concepts and skills well. How well do you do this in your classes?
Just recently, I heard a colleague state to their class, “we are very far behind, so we will need to “boogie” if we are going to finish the material before the AP exam.” A whole unit that will be on the exam was left out of the regular schedule and zipped through in two days. We can wish this, and similar circumstances, were isolated incidences; but, all too often, they become the norm, as a vacation, or end of a quarter, semester, or year approaches. There never seems to be enough time to teach the mandated curriculum. What does this say to students in terms of time management? Which is more powerful, the reality of what one experiences happening from those “in the know” around us, or the short workshop on time management, some students receive, in middle school?
Time management problems also surround the assignment of medium and long term assignments requiring pacing and intermediate objectives, before submission of a final product. Students are often assigned such projects without properly showing them how to organize it, nor requiring intermediate deadlines, nor giving feedback in stages, to better help the students learn and practice their time management skills.
Not allowing Students to Improve and Achieve Outcomes (personal control)
In my experience, very few teachers or courses employ a mastery learning perspective which encourages students to restudy material that is considered important to learn, or allows them to improve an undesirable grade. In a standard instructional design system, which relies on students understanding, and being able to apply, sequential concepts and skills to proceed to more complex areas of learning, one would expect mastery learning to be the norm.
How can we modify the effect of stressors on students? Usually, stress advice is given to those who are experieincing it's ill effects. In this instance, as educators, we are doing what we do best; taking care of our students.
Types of Stress Buffering Support that instructors can provide to students
1. Informational support – offering suggestions and direction when students are confused. Being available for questions; proving feedback on student work prior to evaluation (and after) can all help alleviate students level of stress.
2. Instrumental support – helping students directly by allowing an extraday when students are overwhelmed, providing greater scaffolding when students become confused, etc. can bring great stress relief. Often teachers feel they are playing favorites and feel if they do this they will not be treating students equally and fairly. In terms of stress, the same for everyone may not be fair. Different students have different needs. Some have very few demands, while others collect an unbearable number of responsibilities.
3. Esteem support – It’s easier to repeat what we have done that’d right than not do what was done wrong. An important concept when giving feedback to students on submitted work. This doesn’t mean we can’t tell a student they an answer is incorrect but that we try to keep criticism constructive and focused on aspects of the work that can be changed.
4. Increasing student control over their educational environment and outcomes. Allowing greater flexibility in how students show achievement of outcomes or objectives in regards to learning has benefits to both the student and the instructor. Give students options for increasing performance on learning objectives and the grades associated. (Adapted from Sarafino, 2002)
The Case Study of Jackie Part 2
Using the above as a guidelines, lets get back to Jackie and his everyday effort to be everything, everybody, wants him to be while trying to also "have a life".
It’s Tuesday and Jackie finally gets home at 6:30 after soccer practice. After he gets in, he takes a shower before his mother asks him to help her make dinner and then do the dishes. He heads up to his room about 8pm exhausted from a long day at school; turns on his computer and opens his book bag to start the night homework. Tonight should be a fairly light night! Jackie only has to write read 20 pages and write an analysis paragraph for English class, do about 30 minutes of math problems for pre-calc, read and answer the chapter questions for chemistry, watch a short video and write a paragraph for psychology, write a short dialogue for Spanish 3, and if he has time start finding sources for a 3 page argumentative essay that’s due for US History on Friday. With any luck he should be able to get it all done by midnight and get 7 hours of sleep.
After finishing the reading of Death of Salesman, he sits down to try and write the English paragraph which asks him “using one of the central themes of the play, give an example of a conversation between any two characters, whose conversation content reflects the desire for the American dream, and explain how the elements of this conversation create this symbolism.” Jackie starts leafing through the book to try and locate conversations that specifically deal with symbolism of the American Dream; he finds a couple that seem pretty close, but nothing that comes straight out at him looking up at the clock he notices it’s 9:30 and he hasn’t even started on the paragraph; he says out loud “oh, shit...I’ll just choose this one” and begins writing. On Thursday, he receives the assignment back with the comment “ ok, but not the best example you could have chosen”, with a grade of 15/20. Jackie starts thinking to himself, “that’s a 75, now I’m going to have to study extra hard for the test tomorrow to bring my grade up. Between that and my US history essay that I haven’t started, I’m going to have to pull an all-nighter!”
Unit 2 Reflection Assignment
You will need a paper and pen for this assignment.
Reflect on and then write down responses to the following questions. Answers will vary greatly from instructor to instructor. Some possible analysis is provided in the commentary in Unit 3.
1. After reading "Jackie Part 2", identify the general main sources of stress in Jackies life.
2. Using the unit notes above what specific "key factors", relating to instruction and educational practice, might be the cause of greater feelings of stress?
3. Considering both your knowledge of instructional practices and the suggestions for stress buffering support mentioned above, what specifically could Jackie's instructors do to help alleviate the number or level of stressors?
After writing your responses to the above continue to the next unit...